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Pope berates Sudan on Christian rights

KHARTOUM (Reuter) - The Pope compared the sufferings of Sudan's Catholics yesterday to the crucifixion of Christ, and told the Islamic government that only guaranteeing the rights of Christians and other minorities would bring peace.

'Peace without justice and respect for human rights cannot be achieved,' the Pope told Sudan's President, General Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, in a public address that came close to a lecture. 'In a multiracial and multicultural country, a strategy of confrontation can never bring peace and progress.

'At a time of growing awareness of the importance of respect for human rights as the basis of a just and peaceful world, the question of the respect due to minorities must be faced seriously, especially by political and religious leaders,' the Pope said.

Wearing military uniform and addressing the Pope in Arabic, Gen Bashir said his government was not trying to impose Islamic law on non-Muslims in Sudan, where the church estimates that 3.5 million of the 26 million population are Christian.

In a highly unusual move last October the Vatican made a formal public protest about the treatment of the Catholic church in the mainly Christian and animist south, where a civil war is raging between Muslim government forces and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The Vatican accused Sudan of discrimination in education, harassment of priests and closing Catholic organisations since Islamic law was promulgated in 1991.